Belfast Telegraph

Paramilitary gangsters are the real criminals, not some silly police officer who recorded ill-judged bonfire quip

Bear brawls show parents need to act age

Toppled tower: the Cluan Place bonfire was knocked down on safety grounds
Toppled tower: the Cluan Place bonfire was knocked down on safety grounds
The pallets are toppled
Build-A-Bear staff members were verbally abused by customers
Donald Trump

By Lindy McDowell

I don't know about you but I'm still troubled by the story of the cop accused of muttering 'bye, bye bonfire' as contractors demolished a pyre of pallets which had been due for Eleventh Night incineration in east Belfast.

It seems that a male officer in a police Land Rover videoed the scene in Cluan Place as the JCB moved in last week. This clip was then uploaded to social media where, inevitably, people got offended.

Mostly on account of the fact that, as the mechanical digger hits the dodgy tower in the footage, a voice can be heard cheerily wishing the bonfire adieu.

So how, you might ask, did all this go down at police HQ? I hand you over to a senior officer who had this to say the morning after...

"We hold our officers to the highest standard of conduct and it is clear that this conduct has fallen far short of the standards we set. The officer was quickly identified and immediately stood down from operational duty pending internal enquiries into their conduct.

"It is important to say that we view the actions of this individual officer as completely unacceptable and (they) are certainly not representative of the excellent work carried out by officers across Northern Ireland last night."

I'm still not sure what was regarded as the major crime here.

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Filming the scene in the first place (stupid), posting this on the internet (even more stupid) or making the 'bye-bye' remark (which is mostly what got them going on social media).

But that said, come on - seriously? Is this one silly, minor incident with the sort of throwaway remark any of us would use in the circumstances (I would, anyway) really occasion for a statement of denunciation that is commensurate with major police impropriety?

"Conduct fallen far short of the standards we set... actions of this individual officer... completely unacceptable..."

You'd think they'd caught him running a brothel in the barracks. Or dealing drugs, instead of filming on his phone a bonfire that was being demolished because it was deemed a threat to life, limb and property.

And as it cowped, jokingly bidding it bye, bye.

The only party I can see with any cause for hurt feelings here is the bonfire.

Yes, the officer was silly. Yes, his PSNI bosses should bring him in and give him a rap over the knuckles. Or more appropriately, some advice on the wisdom of mobile phone filming on the job and then sharing (even with friends) footage of the same (it's always going to get out there).

But that said, in a week in which brave police officers from Londonderry to Belfast have once again come under deadly bombardment in violence fomented by both republican paramilitary gangsters in one city and loyalist paramilitary gangsters in the other, we need to keep a sense of perspective here.

We expect police officers to put their lives on the line for us. Yet the least wee human slip up and we're on their backs like a ton of bricks.

PSNI critics (and they are ever ready to have a pop) will argue that the phone footage and that 'bye, bye' quip may have ramped up tensions at a critical time of the year when the paramilitary legions were just itching for any excuse to let loose.

But let's not forget who are the real criminals here - it's the paramilitary godfathers, whether in Belfast or Derry, who represent the real malignancy in our society. Not some policeman phone-filming and being a bit gobby about a demolished heap of pallets.

People within loyalist areas see these gangsters for what they are. Tellingly, the bonfire in question here was being dismantled because it posed a threat to the local community.

The traditional Eleventh Night bonfire is a long-established and legitimate part of unionist culture. But there's nothing traditional about those massive, towering infernos of pallets and machismo now being built annually under paramilitary supervision, and with total disregard for local people's safety or property.

We all know what they're really about is a 'my boney's bigger than yours' assertion of paramilitary territorial control.

They damage people's homes. They endanger lives - mostly young lives. And they terrify local residents. But sure, as there's an inexhaustible supply of pallets out there, we know they'll be built again next year.

Because not only is it deemed 'unacceptable' to say 'bye, bye bonfire', apparently there's no official appetite for 'bye, bye paramilitaries' either.

Bear brawls show parents need to act age

Scuffles, riots, crowd chaos... we're used to that sort of thing in Northern Ireland. Although not usually over stuffed bears. It all got a bit grizzly when the chain Build-a-Bear, including its Belfast store, came under siege from parents and kids eager to avail of a Pay Your Age offer. The bears usually cost about £20 but can reach as much as £50. So no wonder they were queuing around the block.

But it all ended in tears with the police called after members of staff were verbally abused. And I doubt if the culprits were little kids. Act Your Age might have been more appropriate.

Putin the victor as Trump scores own goal

Donald Trump's diplomatic whirlwind tour saw him insult the British Prime Minister, slag off most of Europe, upset NATO and elbow aside the 92-year-old Queen at an official function.

And then, meeting Vladimir Putin after the latter's successful hosting of the World Cup, Trump went on to score a spectacular own goal by siding with the ex-KGB boss over his own intelligence services.

Old wax-faced Vlad remained inscrutable throughout. Inside he must have been doing cartwheels of delight. Still. It's good to talk, as we used to say in this place - before everybody stopped. Again.

Belfast Telegraph


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